Tzu Chi Volunteers Lift East Palo Alto With Love

Northwest  |  January 10, 2021
Jasmine Shih, a Tzu Chi volunteer, places food into the vehicles of residents at the distribution. Photo/Tina Tuan

Written by Leslie Shieh
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

At dawn on December 12th, a truck left the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley food bank, and carefully pulled into the parking lot at Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto for a distribution. Each Saturday, Tzu Chi volunteers prepared care packages of a variety of nutritious food items to be delivered into the vehicles of residents who were waiting at the drive-through.

A food bank truck pulls into Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto for the distribution. Photo/Tina Tuan

Even before eight o’clock, the parking lot was full of vehicles as guests patiently waited for the food distribution. The foods included potatoes, cheese, milk, yogurt, and celery, along with a printed letter from the White House reflecting upon these distinctly challenging times. 

The boxes of food are neatly stacked for the event. Photo/Leslie Shieh
The distributed food includes potatoes, cheese, milk, yogurt, and celery, along with a letter from the White House. Photo/Leslie Shieh

Tzu Chi Offers Covid-19 Relief

Tzu Chi volunteers in East Palo Alto visit the local food bank each Saturday morning, and upon being briefed regarding the situation, organized a list in an effort to help the community overcome the hurdles set forth by the pandemic together. 

Last May, Tzu Chi volunteers provided emergency relief for individuals and families who had become infected with Covid-19. Soon after, Tzu Chi’s mid-to-long-term plans were set in motion. In August, volunteers distributed supplies for care and prevention, and visited families to provide assistance. 

On December 12th, volunteers at the food bank began carefully packing the food for distribution while Tzu Chi volunteers on the other side of the campus were also arranging a venue for gift distribution in preparation for the winter. The distributions were expected to provide approximately 225 care packages, which included Christmas presents and everyday supplies.

Jason Sheu and Eugene, both volunteers, set up a venue for gift distribution. Photo/Tina Tuan

The winter distribution is expected to provide 225 care packages that include Christmas presents and everyday supplies. Photo/Tina Tuan

In the process of the distribution, the volunteers reached out to the families on record to ensure everyone would be receiving the resources they required.

Four Chu Fong, a Tzu Chi volunteer, applied her love of art toward the event as well, painting and decorating cardboard recycled through her husband’s company to create two friendly reindeer and a sled loaded with gifts. These, plus a Christmas tree covered with trinkets, greatly enhanced the festive atmosphere for youngsters at the event, even becoming a backdrop for several family photos. 

Volunteer Four Chu Fong's reindeer and a sled are adored by many at the event. Photo/Four Chu Fong
Three Chilean American volunteers offer their time and efforts as translators for the event. Photo/Leslie Shieh

Once the food distribution was completed, Tzu Chi volunteers continued to deliver their love and care personally. They began with a local resident named Avon, who informed Tzu Chi volunteers that one of her family members had been re-infected with Covid-19. With individually prepared gifts delivered, volunteers offered their sincere wishes for her family’s speedy recovery. 

Michelle Wong, a Tzu Chi volunteer, delivers gifts at Avon's door. Photo/Leslie Shieh
Avon waves to Tzu Chi volunteers in thanks. Photo/Leslie Shieh

Winter Distribution A Community Effort

For low-income families and individuals, the persisting challenges that arose from the pandemic have only made acquiring the resources they require all the more difficult. In times such as these, compassion-focused assistance programs are especially vital, and play a powerful and uplifting role in the journey forward. Each time Tzu Chi volunteers provide their care across the country and around the globe, the power that love and unity bring is clear, indeed. During pandemic relief and prevention events, community members and Tzu Chi volunteers also witnessed this, like in August at the East Palo Alto food bank and at Tzu Chi’s winter distribution. And Tzu Chi’s Sunnyvale supply distribution saw over 20 community volunteers teaming up with Tzu Chi youth volunteers to make more than 500 handcrafted cloth masks for the community. 

Kate Lin, a Tzu Chi volunteer from East Palo Alto, helps make handcrafted cloth face masks for distribution. Photo/Chia-Yang Chang
John appreciates the availability of larger face masks which were offered by Tzu Chi during last August’s supply distribution. Photo/Leslie Shieh

Because of the pandemic, many families encountered further difficulties during the Christmas season. Therefore, volunteers also acquired Christmas gifts for the winter distribution. Tzu Chi prepared more than 200 items for 45 families whom the volunteers had been in correspondence with since October. 

Joan Huang was one of the volunteers from the Sunnyvale community who bought a gift for the distribution, and said, “Both my husband and I are over 70 years old; we’re unable to go out and physically serve the community. Therefore we are grateful for this opportunity to do our bit.” 

Yiwei Chen, another Tzu Chi volunteer, was more than willing to help out with the preparation. Upon receiving packages requiring specific labels for each family member, Vienna Jan, her 3-year-old daughter, also wished to help, adding stickers while piously reciting well-wishes for each family. 

Three-year-old Vienna Jan helps their mother carefully place stickers onto the gift packages for care recipients. Photo/YiWei Chen

For two weeks straight before the distribution, a volunteer named Manya Su worked steadfastly to arrange and pack each item, be it a gift for a specific individual, holiday supplies, or handmade face masks. Each care package was accompanied by a Christmas card written in either English or Spanish alongside Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s words of encouragement.

Helping Families Through the Hardship

Early in the morning on the day of the distribution, Jeff, who had just got off work, came with his wife to the food bank. His wife had gone to the hospital last August due to Covid-19, and they were in urgent need of help. The local school district referred Jeff to East Palo Alto’s food bank for assistance. A month later, Jeff and his two children all had confirmed cases of Covid-19. Tzu Chi immediately provided them with emergency financial relief and prevention supplies. 

Jeff told volunteers he’d just begun working the night shift — his very first job since the pandemic began — and he was very appreciative. Tired yet happy, he came to pick up gifts right after getting off duty and expressed hope that things would get better.

Austin Tsao, a Tzu Chi volunteer, happily greets Jeff at the distribution event. Photo/Leslie Shieh
Volunteer Austin Tsao speaks with Jeff and his family, sharing a Tzu Chi journal in Spanish in addition to the gifts. Photo/Leslie Shieh

Evangelina Opeta is a medical assistant who conducted tests on patients with Covid-19. She also became infected last May. Evangelina is a single mother with two children, and her 4-year-old son has a serious heart condition that needed urgent treatment. Soon after, Tzu Chi provided her with financial relief and preventative supplies.

In an October follow-up call, a Tzu Chi volunteer, Michelle Wong, learned that Evangelina was outside the operating room at that very moment at UCSF Medical Center as she awaited the completion of her son’s 8-hour heart surgery. She’d only been eating the foods her son left over during his hospital stay due to financial circumstances. Upon hearing about her current situation, Michelle Wong immediately contacted Roxanne Buchwitz and Yuaner Wu, both of whom are volunteers from San Francisco, and the three offered spiritual support, financial relief, and nutritious Jing Si rice and noodles. Yuaner Wu, a nurse working in the hospital’s heart surgery department, also helped put Evangelina’s mind at ease with her professional experience.

“I was infected with Covid-19 and have just recovered,” said Evangelina. “Yet again, faced with the challenge of my son’s surgery, we are really in a bind, because there is no one to turn to with just me and my son in the hospital. Michelle called to follow up on me, asking if I needed any more help. After hearing about my difficulty, she and other volunteers came to the hospital to visit me with what I really needed at the moment: money and food. I really thank her very much for the help she personally rendered in this pandemic.”  

Volunteer Austin Tsao shows Evangelina the handmade cloth masks. Photo/Tina Tuan
Jing Si Instant Rice is nutritious and made with love. Photo/Tina Tuan

Ana and her husband both lost their jobs to the pandemic. Later on, her husband found a temporary job in Los Angeles, and for the moment, had to live at his parents’ home. Last May, her husband, along with his parents, brothers, and sisters, were all infected with Covid-19. Ana turned to Tzu Chi for assistance, and volunteers provided emergency financial relief. Then, when volunteers saw her again in August upon presenting her with preventative supplies, they also gave her a bamboo bank and told her its story. Deeply moved, Ana vowed to keep the story in mind.

During the December 12th distribution, Ana returned with the bamboo bank brimming with coins. She was appreciative of Tzu Chi’s helping hand when she needed it most. With her husband’s recovery, Ana hoped she could also help those in need, and Tzu Chi volunteers were deeply touched by her joyful and caring spirit. Ana was happy to take another bamboo bank along with her care package as a way of motivating her to keep on helping others. 

Lily, another care recipient, also exemplified this spirit of great love. 

Coming from an extremely impoverished country in Central America, I know even a small sum of money goes a long way. Tzu Chi’s story about the bamboo bank is very touching. I hope every little bit of my effort will eventually be able to help those who are in need.

Ana hands a bamboo bank to Michelle Wong. Photo/Tina Tuan
Volunteers Christine Liu and Elizebeth listen as Lily explains her reason for donating the bamboo bank full of coins. Photo/Tina Tuan

A seed of care and compassion is sown in each community that Tzu Chi volunteers serve, and volunteers hope that the support shared by all at each relief event can grow and flourish to lift the community with love.

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